Scotsman George Murray is relishing his return to the venue of his maiden Challenge Tour title, and the town where he proposed to his wife, as he heads to the Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels and Resorts this week.
It will be the first time back at Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club for Murray since 2010, when he stormed to a four shot victory over Sweden’s Magnus A Carlsson.
A year prior to that, the 30 year old proposed to his wife Carrie in the picturesque town of Aviemore, which has hosted the Scottish Hydro Challenge for the past four years.
“I played great that week in 2010, probably the best I've ever played,” said Murray, who is a member of Team Scottish Hydro, a group of five Scottish Challenge Tour players who receive funding from the tournament’s title sponsor.
“It was great to win up there. It was my first win as a professional too so it was excellent.
“I led from the first day and afterwards I moved to third in the Rankings, and I kept playing solidly that year and got my European Tour card.
“I love it up there. I go up a lot with my family and got engaged up there. We went for a nice little walk out to a loch – the most nerve-wracking walk of my life!
“There’s great Scottish food up there, haggis and what-not, and the course suits my eye. I love being in Scotland and the home comforts. My wife will come up for the week and I’ll take the dog up and walk him at night, keep it chilled.”
After a positive start to the Challenge Tour season, with a tied 12th place finish at the season opener in India before a third place finish at the Barclays Kenya Open, Murray has struggled to maintain that form and also suffered a freak rib injury while travelling to Madeira last month.
“My ribs are a lot better now, but I didn’t hit a ball for two weeks so I couldn’t expect much from last week in Saint Omer (where he missed the cut),” he said.
“I started well this year and then after those two good finishes I was still playing alright but I wasn’t holing many putts. Then I got injured and I feel like all of a sudden I'm chasing my tail a bit.
“The injury came at the wrong time, during two big tournaments in Madeira and Saint Omer, which is a bit annoying, but it will fix itself and I need to get it going again.
“The next few weeks will be big for me and hopefully I can get a big result soon. Hopefully I can do it in front of the home crowds next week.”
Murray and the four other members of Team Scottish Hydro – Jack Doherty, Andrew McArthur, Jamie McLeary, another past winner of the event, and Lloyd Saltman – will all be harbouring hopes of a home win, as will European Tour winners Alastair Forsyth and Raymond Russell.
Englishman Sam Walker, meanwhile, returns to defend the title, having also won the inaugural Scottish Hydro Challenge in 2006.
Nick Dougherty revisits the country where he claimed the biggest of his three European Tour titles, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2007, and both multiple winners on the Challenge Tour this year, François Calmels and Brooks Koepka, are in the field as they chase a third victory which would earn them automatic promotion to The European Tour.